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Rafael Nadal inches closer to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the "Big Titles" leaderboard.

Big Title Boosts Rafa's No. 1 Hopes

Spaniard's first 'Big Title' in 12 months moves him closer to Race lead

In what has been a career full of frameable moments, years from now, Sunday afternoon should still stand out to Rafael Nadal. It could also prove to be the launch pad to his return to year-end World No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.

His 10th Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters crown. His 29th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. His 43rd “Big Title”, which inches him closer to longtime rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

But Nadal's first title of 2017 might only be part of the prelude to what could be one of the Spaniard's best years on the ATP World Tour. Nadal is currently second in the Emirates ATP Race To London, a calendar-year points race that started in the first week of January. The Spaniard is 810 Race points behind No. 1 Roger Federer, who has 4,045 Race points.

But with Federer resting and not planning to play until Roland Garros, Nadal could catch the 35 year old during the next seven weeks and then some. The Spaniard could take home 2,500 Race points at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia before Federer rejoins the tour in Paris.

In addition to his 19 combined Monte-Carlo and Barcelona titles, Nadal has won Madrid four times, and he's hoisted the trophy in Rome seven times.

“[In Barcelona], I am playing another very important event for me at home and I'm excited about that. Then I going to keep playing at home in Madrid,” Nadal said. “There are so many opponents to play before [Roland Garros], so many important matches. Every event in this part of the season for me, in my heart, is so special. I enjoy every day.”

Current and Former Champions' Big Titles Won (Records Since 1990)

Player Grand Slams ATP Finals
1000s Total (Avg)
Roger Federer 18/69 6/14 26/125 50/208 (4.2)
Novak Djokovic  12/49 5/10 30/96 47/155 (3.3)
Rafael Nadal 14/47 0/7 29/101 43/155 (3.6)
Pete Sampras 14/52 5/11 11/83 30/146 (4.9)
Andre Agassi 8/61 1/13 17/90 26/164 (6.3)
Andy Murray 3/44 1/8 14/94 18/144 (8)
Boris Becker* 2/26 2/6 5/51 9/83 (9.2)
Thomas Muster 1/29 0/4 8/53 9/86 (9.6)
Gustavo Kuerten 3/33 1/3 5/67 9/103 (11.4)
Jim Courier 4/38 0/4 5/71 9/113 (12.6)
Stefan Edberg** 3/28 0/4 1/24 4/56 (14)
Marcelo Rios 0/26 0/1 5/56 5/83 (16.6)
Michael Chang 1/50 0/6 7/86 8/142 (17.8)
Marat Safin 2/41 0/3 5/87 7/131 (18.7)
Andy Roddick 1/46 0/6 5/75 6/127 (21.2)
Lleyton Hewitt 2/66 2/4 2/75 6/145 (24.2)
Patrick Rafter 2/35 0/2 2/48 4/85 (21.3)
Sergi Bruguera 2/33 0/3 2/63 4/96 (24)
Juan Carlos Ferrero 1/45 0/3 4/84 5/132 (26.4)
Carlos Moya 1/47 0/5 3/76 4/128 (32)
Stan Wawrinka 3/48 0/4 1/94 4/146 (36.5)
Yevgeny Kafelnikov 2/38 0/7 0/77 2/122 (61)

 * Becker's four other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
** Edberg's three other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.

Nadal's high place in the Race means he's in contention to compete for year-end No. 1 with Federer and likely challengers, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who have much ground to make up after sluggish starts to 2017.

Federer and Nadal are the Race frontrunners in what has been an unlikely start to the year. When Murray and Djokovic battled in an epic Doha final to kick off the season, everyone thought the battle for year-end No. 1 would be a two-man race between the Scot and the Serbian. But both have underperformed to start the year.

A slow start to the season and not being in the first three places of the Race after Miami can make it very difficult to finish year-end No. 1. Since 2004, there's been only one occasion when someone came from outside the Top 3 in the Race after Miami to finish year-end No. 1. In 2010, Nadal was placed sixth in the Race after Miami but finished year-end No. 1.

Murray and Djokovic's start is especially surprising when you consider this: Only three times since 1990, and never since 1999, have the players who finished the previous year ranked No. 1 and No. 2 not reached at least one final at the four big events to start the following season: the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Miami Open presented by Itau and the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

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